Tennessee bested Texas Southern on Thursday night by a final score of 70-58 in Thompson Boling Arena. While the game itself wasn’t the prettiest you will see this season, it does go down in the books as the first official win for Donnie Tyndall as the head coach at the University of Tennessee.
Here are five takeaway’s from Tennessee’s performance:
Distractions: There were – and still are – a lot of questions surrounding Donnie Tyndall and the ongoing NCAA investigation surrounding his time at Southern Miss. The NCAA was in town this week to interview Tyndall and meet with Tennessee officials, and there were many who wondered if the investigation would serve as a distraction to this team moving forward. Tonight’s game featured a slow start for the Vols, but they were able to turn things around as the first half wound down, before really stepping up their play in the second half. If the NCAA investigation was a distraction for this team, they moved past it quickly. There is still a lot left to unfold regarding this investigation in the coming weeks, but it doesn’t look as if it will have any type of lasting impact on this team when they step on the court – a good sign when considering the speed at which the NCAA is prone to work in such situations.
“Can’t Score” Carmichael: True freshman Willie Carmichael made his presence felt on both ends of the floor for the Vols in this game. Carmichael started his night with a sensational block (<—You’ll want to click that link) against Texas Southern’s Nick Shepherd as he went up for a layup that really gave Tennessee a jolt of energy after a slow start. In the second half, Carmichael – who “can’t score” according to what Texas Southern head coach Mike Davis yelled to his team during the first half – made some nice moves around the basket for critical baskets and hit some free throws down the stretch that helped Tennessee maintain the lead in the second half. He would finish his night with 10 points and seven rebounds in 26 minutes of play. Carmichael is still learning the game, but his skill set should provide Vol fans with some optimism for the future as he develops.
Steady Richardson: Josh Richardson will be Tennessee’s best player in most games this season, but he was the best player on the floor tonight. He is the steady force that this inexperienced team needs right now, and he really did a nice job of settling his team down and getting them into their offensive sets. Richardson was a coach on the floor tonight, and, as always, played lockdown defense when Tennessee dropped back into their matchup zone. Richardson led all scorers in the game with 19 points on 7-of-14 shooting, including 4-of-4 from the free throw line, and 3-of-5 from beyond the arc. Richardson also added eight rebounds, two steals, two assists and zero turnovers in 36 minutes of play. Tennessee will need to find help behind Richardson to give him some rest as the season progresses, but he looks like a player who is getting more comfortable with his role in each game.
“Take their legs”: The mantra for Donnie Tyndall’s style of defense is to wear down opponents in the second half with stingy defense and full-court pressure. His line is, “Take their legs.” The Vols we able to do that tonight against Texas Southern and it helped them pull away down the stretch in this game. The Vols only forced four Texas Southern turnovers in the first half, and that allowed the Tigers to find some offensive rhythm and set up their defense on the other end of the floor after made baskets. In the second half, Tyndall’s team turned up the pressure. The Vols were able to force nine turnovers after halftime and their full-court press was a big reason why. The press slowed TSU down, forced turnovers and kept the Tiger offense out of anything that might resemble an offensive rhythm in the second half.
Owning the paint: With their biggest player – and only true post player, Dom Woodson – on the bench with a hand injury, Tennessee’s focus in this game was to minimize the impact of his absence by getting to the paint, rebounding, and getting to the free throw line. After getting to the free throw line only four times in the first half, the Vols made it a point of emphasis in the second and made their way to the charity stripe 13 times, hitting 10 of those attempts. Tennessee out-rebounded the Tigers 40-27 (20 offensive and 20 defensive) and held a 26-16 advantage in points in the paint. Tennessee’s point advantage in the paint should have been much larger, but missed layups plagued the Vols in the first half. If they can get that cleaned up (as most teams tend to do over the course of the season), then this team may have a chance to surprise some folks this year.
Finally, here’s a look at the final box score from tonight’s game.
Final stats from Tennessee's 70-58 win over Texas Southern. pic.twitter.com/GpV1tPqEEQ
— Rocky Top Insider (@rockytopinsider) November 21, 2014